Tuesday, February 3, 2009

PTSD Healing: The Importance of Integrating Memories

I hope you’re getting used to the idea of this month’s PTSD healing resolution: I WILL TALK. Here’s why it’s so necessary:

The French psychiatrist and philosopher Pierre Janet proposed that “when patients fail to integrate the traumatic experience into the totality of their personal awareness, they become ‘attached’ … to the trauma: ‘Unable to integrate traumatic memories, they seem to have lost their capacity to assimilate new experiences as well. It is… as if their personality has definitely stopped at a certain point, and cannot enlarge any more by the addition or assimilation of new elements…. All [traumatized] patients seem to have had the evolution of their lives checked; they are attached to an insurmountable obstacle.’”

This sounds like a fair description of us PTSDers, no? We cannot go forward, and even though we hate going back, that is the place to which we continually return.

Janet goes on to say that “unless the dissociated elements of the trauma [are] integrated into personal consciousness, … [survivors are] likely to experience a slow decline in personal and occupational functioning.” Which means in order to heal – in order to move on into the future – we must conquer the past by making it become a small part of us, rather than looming largely over us.

This is the challenge of trauma, and eventually, the challenge of PTSD. Being able to tell the story of our trauma is the first step in bringing it down to size. In the aftermath of experience we must redefine ourselves; we are not powerless, we are powerful. Words can give us power. When we use the words available to us, when we tell the story, we begin the construction a post-trauma identity where we are the actors instead of the acted upon. This is how we begin to heal.

No matter how difficult it is to pull the details together, we must begin to try. Start thinking about the timeline of your trauma. This may encompass a few hours or a period of years. Sidle up to the idea of pinning down the memories and putting them in an order.

My intention here is not to cause you to trigger yourself. Approach this idea slowly and carefully, but I do believe that looking at what frightens us is a big step in healing. We cannot get the help we need from practitioners, doctors, friends, family, colleagues or lovers if we cannot communicate what ails us.

Turn over the idea of your story in your head. This does not need to be incredibly detailed, but it does need to have a context for your trauma. If this exercise makes you anxious, let it go for a while and then come back to it.

Today, your goal is to begin thinking of yourself as a storyteller. You are not a victim or survivor or PTSD sufferer.

You are Sheherazade. You are about to tell the story of a thousand and one traumatized nights. They are not your nights – they are nights in the universe and you are only the keeper of their secrets.

(photo: mosaicroro)


Destress Yourself said...

Hi Michelle,

Excellent post as usual. I know whenever an emergency worker experiences a terrible trauma, the best thing for him/her to do is defuse the situation by retelling the story with someone who is trained. I know this keeps people happier, a lot longer, and in the field. Meaning, some quit being hero's because of the trauma.

Have a great day.


Donetta said...

I have gone through several years, now out of the journey for a good 10 years. Shown to have fully recovered. My trauma was a very long sustained worst of humanity type thing. Made it through my first 18 years of it and then at 24 or so began having flashbacks, after many years and a lot of hard work. Telling on the perpetrators I made it through. I almost lost my mind. I choose to live. Now the severity of all those early years is telling.
I appreciative your kindness.
See my other blog link "a life restored"
I do not really want to open up all of that again. I think it is so hard to raise a family and think and or open up a lot. It is lonely yes.